Thursday, July 28, 2011

Taliban Role In Mumbai Attack

Terrorists thinking outside the box?

The indigenous terror group Indian Mujahideen that carried out the July 13 bombings in Mumbai appears to have been trained and given other help by the Taliban in Afghanistan, senior security officials have told Asia Sentinel.

The Mumbai serial bomb blasts killed 20 people and injured nearly 150 people, many seriously, highlighting once again the vulnerability of the city and the rest of the country to repeated terror attacks. It was the worst such attack on India’s commercial center since Nov. 26, 2008, when Pakistani militants killed 164 people and wounded at least 308.

The Indian Mujahideen are believed to have been formed in 2008 as a front group created by the Pakistani-based Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami to confuse investigators, officials say. They have also been linked with the banned Students Islamic Movement of India, with some of its cadres derived from the local Indian population. Apparently because of a concern that Indian intelligence officials were catching up with the Pakistani-based jihadi groups, the training was switched to Afghanistan.

In order to unleash the current round of terror attacks, at least a dozen operatives were trained by the Taliban to orchestrate militant strikes in India, the officials said. The Taliban are growing increasingly hostile to India’s involvement in Afghanistan, which has included support to President Hamid Karzai, re-construction, infrastructure development and aid. New Delhi believes that an Afghanistan under Taliban rule extends the influence of Pakistan in the war-ravaged country, which is inimical to India’s interest, especially in reining in terrorism and militancy in Kashmir.

Mumbai has been attacked repeatedly by terrorist bombers or jihadi terrorists going back to 1993, raising serious questions about the competence of the police and intelligence agencies to thwart them. The officials say the earlier presumption about inadequate local levels of policing and intelligence gathering reflects a bigger failure that extends to federal agencies involved in pre-emption, counter-terror and cross national operations.

A committee set up to probe the 2008 attacks, chaired by Ram Pradhan, a former governor and home secretary, and V Balachandran, a retired police officer, issued a devastating report indicating the police were completely unprepared. That appears to have continued. Critics have pointed out, for instance, that a recommendation by the committee to install 5,000 CCTV cameras in the city is still pending in Delhi.

Taken in this context Home Minister P Chidambaram’s statement that there was absence of any intelligence inputs about an impending attack in Mumbai last week, misses the mark and points towards a bigger error. The officials say it is crucial to establish effective communication links between the higher intelligence agencies and the lower level police posts to build a comprehensive front against “low intensity-high impact” bomb attacks.

The officials involved closely with India’s internal intelligence and security, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the operatives trained by the Taliban in all likelihood carried out the three blasts via improvised explosive devices in Mumbai. IED attacks are such that they are the most difficult to track, pre-empt and investigate. In the past, IEDs have been used during multiple instances in Delhi, Varanasi, Guwahati, Mumbai, Hyderabad and in Gujarat, to telling effect in terms of loss of human life and injury by shrapnel, especially in crowded areas such as market places, local trains and places of worship.

Jihadi strikes carried out using IEDs, wherein a pressure cooker can be turned into an explosive device, are most difficult to track simply because the attack can be broken down to multiple operatives and even “outsourced” to local criminals in exchange for money, say the officials.

Thus, a city such as Mumbai, which is a hub for the land- grabbing mafia and gold, arms and drugs smugglers and prostitution, becomes especially vulnerable. Proximity to Pakistan makes it that much more at risk. The attackers in the 2008 massacre arrived from the sea.

Although terrorists have also used RDX, which can bring down buildings, such sophisticated explosives are not easy to assemble and have to be smuggled into the country and can be tracked, as happened in the aftermath of 1993 Mumbai blasts. Thus suicide bombers and attackers regard IEDs as an effective substitute.

Attackers can be killed or caught as happened with the Delhi Parliament attack in 2001 and the November 2008 Mumbai attacks. Satellite and mobile phones, interrogation of 2008 Mumbai attacker Ajmal Kasab, who was caught alive, reveal a lot to investigators.

There are also suggestions to make Mumbai, India’s biggest city and a huge metropolis run by the Maharashtra state government, into a separate political entity like Delhi to pin political responsibility for managing internal security. Delhi, which was made into a separate state, has had some success in thwarting terror attacks. The city was last hit by serial IED blasts in October 2005 that killed 55 people. India also had success in tackling terrorism in Punjab in the 1980s when the state police under K PS Gill succeeded in eliminating militancy for good.

If the country doesn’t ultimately get its act right against terrorism, whether outsourced by jihadis or committed by suicide bombers themselves, apart from ramping up at all levels to guard against the equally venomous suicide and sophisticated bomb attacks, it appears that the terrorists will continue to regard Mumbai as a soft target, and that tragedy will continue.

By Siddharth Srivastava New Delhi-based journalist

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